We’ve all heard the tale of the student who graduates with six AP classes, a whopping 4.5 GPA and is recruited by every college on the planet. But when it comes to your teen, you often wonder if Advanced Placement classes are the right way to go. And if so, how many should a student take, and which ones? Well, unfortunately there isn’t one right answer; it really depends on the individual. The two variables you’ll want to consider are your teen’s aptitude and interest in the subjects offered.
The Advanced Placement Program is organized and administered by CollegeBoard, the company that puts out the SAT test. High schools typically offer several AP courses to their juniors and seniors. The AP classes contain college-level material, and are designed to prepare students for the optional AP tests, given in May of each year. Doing well on the AP tests can earn students college credit or advanced standing in their college or university. This saves two precious commodities for a first-year college student: time and money!
College Admissions Offices like to see that students are willing to challenge themselves by taking AP classes. Since AP classes compare to college-level courses, they demonstrate to admission representatives that a student is ready for the rigorous academics of college. For this reason, most schools add an extra grade point to the AP class when calculating the student’s GPA. For example, an “A” usually earns four points toward the GPA; in an AP class it earns five points. A “B” typically equates to three points toward the GPA; in an AP class it equates to four points, and so on. An argument could be made that one should take the safe road and earn an “A” in a standard class, rather than take a chance on getting a “B” in an AP class. Although both options result in the same GPA, a college would prefer to see the “B” in an AP class over an “A” in a standard class. It tells them that the student is ready for a challenge!
Successfully passing an AP class can demonstrate the student’s interest or passion in a subject. If biology is your teen’s thing, she should consider taking an AP Biology class. We hear over and over that colleges are looking for students who have demonstrated a passion or commitment throughout their high school years. Colleges assume that one’s interests may change but once a commitment is made, it’s there for life! You may ask, how does a student demonstrate passion? One way is to take an AP class in his chosen field. If he lives for music, consider the AP Music Theory class; if computers are her first love try the AP Computer Science course! If your high school doesn’t offer an AP class in your teen’s area of interest, you may want to consider downloading the course material from the CollegeBoard website (www.collegeboard.com). There are independent study materials for thirty-four courses to prepare your student for the AP test. Most students do best by sticking with the classes that reflect their areas of interest, and then doing exceptionally well on the associated AP tests, rather than chalking up as many AP classes as possible.
Effectively mastering Advanced Placement classes can help raise a student’s GPA, prove to colleges that she can handle a higher level of academics, and save time and money on classes during college. So what’s the best approach?
Begin by taking stock of your student’s aptitude to determine what she can handle—you don’t want other grades to suffer in order to nail an AP course or two! Carefully consider areas of interest and her passion for learning a specific subject. Review the courses that are offered at your high school or in the community, and then use the AP courses to build a profile that represents your student’s true interests and abilities.
The author, Lynette Mathews is a freelance writer and member of the National Educators Writers Association.
She is the director of The College Planning Center, a resource for students and parents. © 2016